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Israel’s War on Terrorism

This article was previously published as an Op-Ed in the Jerusalem Post

The last wave of coordinated suicide attacks by Hamas did not come in revenge for the killing of Hamas leader Mahmoud Abu Hanoud or the accidental death of five Palestinian children. These terrorist acts must be considered in the context of America’s war on terrorism, the inclusion of the radical Islamic organizations Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah on the updated US list of terrorist organizations and US special envoy Anthony Zinni’s mission in the region.

Over the last months, Hamas has dealt extensively in its publications with the US role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One analysis, at the end of September, concluded that any effective and practical dealing with the US must give less weight to its role in the region, and try to contain and isolate it by disregarding its initiatives. It also called to endorse the resistance program as the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic strategic option and develop elements of power by giving up once and for all the political settlement option, because the American administration is “the patron and participant in the Zionist project in the region.”

Another analysis claimed that the Palestinians could wait; as they are not in a hurry, and have virtually nothing to lose: “There is nothing in the Koran or the New Testament saying that the Arab-Israeli conflict must be resolved during George W. Bush’s term of office.”

Hamas leaders are aware that the successful end of the Afghanistan campaign and the preparation of the second stage of America’s war on terrorism leave little time to achieve the movement’s strategic goals. It seems, therefore, that Hamas, acting as a vanguard of the most radical forces in the region – Hizbullah, Iran, Syria and Iraq – is ready to sabotage any hope of agreement, even if partial and temporary, and possibly act as a catalyst for a more general anti-American upheaval in the region.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat cannot claim now that he is, at last, honest in his decision to clamp down on those who endanger the “superior interests of the Palestinian people” and therefore must be given the necessary time to arrest them (in a friendly manner, if possible). Arafat is responsible for launching the intifada, the liberation of all Hamas detainees, the cooption of its leadership in the National-Islamic Front for the coordination of the Intifada, the permission given for suicide bombings inside Israel and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip. It is also obvious that his intelligence agencies knew about the preparation of the last suicide operations: Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders announced them clear and loud on the Gaza walls and in their TV interviews, but Arafat did nothing to stop them.

Israel must therefore wage its war on terrorism on two fronts: It should give priority first and foremost to the destruction of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operational and strategic leadership and give no respite to its militants, through precise targeted operations, including the use of elite units in the heart of PA territory. This should significantly reduce the threat of suicide and other attacks in Israel’s heartland, but also prevent the transformation of Hamas as the leading political force in the territories and convey the right message to the radicals in the ranks of Fatah.

As to Arafat, it is clear today that as the PLO’s historical leader, he is unwilling and unable to change strategy and accept a historical compromise which would include a painful compromise on Jerusalem and the renunciation of the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. There is no real “political horizon” for Arafat or with Arafat, but only short-term unstable partial agreements.

Unfortunately, Israel cannot expel Arafat from the territories: he would continue to enjoy international recognition and a certain degree of support; the Palestinian people would consider him a tragic hero but still their leader; and he would do his utmost to maneuver the PA from abroad. If some Arab or European leader should decide to bring him back to Gaza in his helicopter, it is not certain that the Israeli government will have the guts to stop him.

Therefore, Israel must follow a strategy of gradually weakening Arafat, limiting to a great degree his freedom of movement outside the PA and waging an organized propaganda war to convince the Palestinian people that Arafat is responsible for their hardships. Arafat has always prevented, by every means, the growth of a potential heir or an alternative opponent. His internal weakening would permit, possibly, the appearance of a new leader or of an organized opposition, which will bring, in the long run, the necessary change in leadership.

After a year of extremely violent conflict with the Palestinians, numerous victims and socio-economic hardships on both sides, and growing hatred and mistrust between the two peoples as a result of Arafat’s policy, our leaders must find the moral force to convey to the Israeli people, as President George W. Bush did with the American people, the fact that we are facing a long war, not only against terrorism, but also to achieve peace.